I rarely envy the brilliance of others. I figure they worked hard to achieve it, and they were lucky enough to pick the right set of parents, and so they deserve all the glory it reaps.
Sometimes, though, someone says something that’s so profound and amazing that it changes forever the way I see the matter at hand. Take a minute and read this post by Captaintbag.
It’s elegant. It’s eloquent. And like Einstein’s theory of relativity, it reconciles a whole world of disturbing contradictions into a single, comprehensible, unified whole. Upon reading Captaintbag’s simple formula, my first reaction was that “all is now revealed.” My second was envy. My third, disciple-like, is devotion.
Stating the problem
Cycling at the amateur and professional levels has always been riven by two irreconcilable principles. The first is that cycling is sport that should therefore be played according to rules and penalties that apply to all. Sticky water bottle? $75 fine. Blood bags from Dr. Fuentes? Two-year excommunication to the golf course.
The second principle is that winners are deities.
When principles collide
These two principles lead to contradictory phenomena. Fairly applied rules means that cheating will not be rewarded. Deification of winners means that they will be deified, even if they cheat.
In the Newtonian scheme of things, sporting ethics were a constant. The quality of an athlete as a disreputable winner who cheated, or as an honorable loser who played fairly, or as a deified winner who played by the rules, could be determined by the application of immutable sporting ethics as codified by the rules, which themselves were tweaked over time to ensure that new types of play (freakish tt positions, EPO use) comported with the unchanging ethic.
Yet none of it worked. Heroes like Anquetil plainly said that doping was a necessity. Though punished for his refusal to take a dope test after smashing the hour record by having the record stripped, he remained a hero to many, even an honorable one for his refusal to lie about the demands of the sport.
The golden era of cycling, from about 1995 to 2005, was one of superhuman accomplishment driven at the point of a needle. Those most worthy of honor in that pantheon, giants like Hincapie for his record participations in Roubaix and the Tour, stand tarnished. Honorable heroes, yet tarnished cheats.
The Captaintbag theory of relativity solves all
Simply put, the Taintbag Theory of Turdy Tawdriness states that the Tour is a spectacle. Indeed, this is merely a modern restatement of Henri Desgrange’s founding principle, that the Tour is nothing if not an excess.
Sporting ethic has no role in the Tour other than as a pliable handmaiden to the brutish demands of spectacle. The Tour, as Taintbag’s formula expresses, is bloody athletes tangled in barbed wire, drug scandal, horrific crashes, noble sacrifices on cruel Alpine slopes, tragic deaths of children run over by the publicity caravan, voluptuous divas smothering sweat-drenched riders on a blow-up podium, car crashes, motorcycle crashes, snow, ice, rain, unbearable sun, cheating, lies, chicanery, backdoor deals, stage wins bartered and sold like used cars at a swap meet, and everything done on a global stage before thousands of reporters while broadcast to hundreds of millions and commentated by clowns named Sherwen, Liggett, and Roll, characters as outlandish as their outsized, drunken egos.
This, according to the Taintbag Theory of Turdy Tawdriness, is the Tour. It is not right or wrong, good or bad, hero or villain, fair play or foul. It is the violent and bloody and greedy and dollar-soaked and testosterone drenched hand-to-hand combat of crazy puppets, laughed at and cried over, loved and reviled, held tightly and discarded in disgust like just another condom whose duty is done.
Enjoy the taint. Decry the taint. Long live the taint!